When the custodial parent of a child dies, in the state of Texas, not only is the child and family union devastated, but now is presented the difficult issue of who will become the child’s guardian. Who are the possible candidates that may be legal guardians?
- Non- Custodial parent, if paternity is acknowledged
- Other relatives
- Godparents, Family friends, Neighbors
- State Foster System
Usually, the surviving non-custodial parent will have an automatic right to custody of the child. Texas law favors a child having a solid relationship with both parents and in the event of death, the living parent will take over permanent exclusive custody of the child. What factors should be considered in the child’s best interest that could determine custody by the surviving parent if he/she is not appropriate for the child?
- Did the court, after the divorce, terminate your parental rights in a legal proceeding? If the non- custodial parent had legally been terminated of his/her parental rights this is binding and the terminated parent WOULD NOT be granted permanent custody of the child.
- What if the custodial parent remarried and the new stepparent legally adopted the child? If the child was legally adopted by the stepparent and the non-custodial parent had waived their parental rights, the stepparent would be granted permanent custody of the child.
- What if the non-custodial parent has acknowledged parentage, but paternity has not been established? To be entitled to custody of the child, the father would first claim parental rights through paternity testing to determine if he is the biological father of the child or if he has signed the child’s birth certificate. After Paternity is established, a separate legal proceeding may need to be initiated to override the terms of the mother’s will.
- What if the Custodial Parent created a will that stated the grandparents/godparents would take over as the legal Guardians of the child in the event of death? Many parents will request a particular person or group, such as grandparents, relatives, or godparents to become guardians for their minor children in the case of their demise, but a child is not a piece of property to give away to others when the other biological parent is living. The judge will view what is in the best interest of the child and will always first look at the surviving parent. If this parent meets basic standards the child will live with this parent. If the surviving parent cannot serve the child’s best interest, then the judge will consider the guardian designated in the deceased parent will.
Nacol Law Firm P.C.
Courts, legislatures and juries are becoming more aware of the necessity of father’s being involved in the lives of their children. Children with positive father involvement have fewer behavior problems, higher levels of sociability, and perform better in school.
Recent research suggests that father involvement during pregnancy affects multiple areas of child and family well- being, from prenatal care initiation and mother and child health outcomes, to the likelihood that the father will provide ongoing financial and emotional support. This body of research is gaining momentum. Local and regional governmental agencies are focusing more and more on parental father involvement in the lives of children.
As a result of the changes taking place in society today, the Courts are now recognizing a father’s ability to care for his children as becoming equal to that of the mother. Starting out on an equal plane, the Court may look to which parent is more stable, has a superior income, has a parenting plan in place for the child and is capable of providing proper child care and spending more quality time with the child.
If a father ignorantly gives up rights to his children based on prejudices of the past in the Court system he can feed a mother’s confidence and sponsor unnecessary ongoing litigation. The number one mistake made by father’s in the court system today is a failure to take the time to learn how the system works. Failing to learn how the family law system works may doom your case. Once you have learned the ins and outs of the family law system you will need to form a plan, set goals and never relent in enforcing your rights as a father.
Five of the biggest mistakes men make in a legal action are: 1) failing to respond to the legal action itself; 2) obtaining incorrect legal advice (from friends and family rather than a legal expert); 3) signing a settlement agreement they are not in agreement with and later deeply regretting it; 4) failing to perform under the actual settlement agreement signed; and 5) getting frustrated and/or acquiescing to unreasonable orders.
Some of the things you may want to consider as you prepare for the custody battle are as follows:
- Who has the financial ability to best care for the child(ren)? Be sure to have income tax verification, W-2 Forms and other financial information available.
- Form a parenting plan (child care, after school care, transportation, pediatrician, etc.).
- Who is more stable and/or can provide the best home for the child(ren)?
- Where has the child(ren) been attending school? Is it possible to keep the child in the same school district?
- Prepare a chronology of events leading up to the divorce including treatment of the child(ren), time spent with the child(ren), activities with the child(ren), the child(ren)’s schedule.
- Consider if a home study should be prepared regarding each home of the child.
- Consider whether a psychological evaluation should be done on the mother?
- Is drug testing necessary? (Be sure to request hair follicle drug testing.)
- Is there an alcohol or other addiction problem in the home?
- Who can provide the best moral upbringing for the children?
- Is there evidence such as pictures, video tapes, etc. that may help your case?
- Avoid unnecessary compromising photos or data on Facebook or other social networking sites.
List any other relevant issues you feel may be important to your case before you meet with an attorney.
The most important thing to remember is that your failure, if based on dated concepts and inapplicable worn out prejudices, will be her victory and your parental failure.
Texas family law states that a court may modify a child custody order if the change is in the best interest of the child and one of the following applies:
1. The circumstances of the child or parent have materially or substantially changed since the date of the original child custody order or order to be modified.
2. The child is at least 12 years of age and will tell the court in private chambers with the judge that he/she would like a change.
3. The custodial parent has voluntarily given the child’s care and custody to another person for at least 6 months.
Material or Substantial Change
What could be acceptable as a change for the Texas family courts? Some examples could be a parent’s remarriage, a medical condition the affects a parent’s ability take care of the child, a parent’s criminal acts or convictions, a parent’s change in residence that makes visitation a hardship for the other parent, family violence, drug or alcohol related issues, absence of supervision, and other material changes concerning adequate care and supervision of the child.
Child Wants Change
The child must be at least 12years of age and maybe interviewed in the judge’s chambers. The court will consider the child’s desire but only make a change if it is in the child’s best interest.
This happens when the custodial parent has voluntarily given up custody of the child to another person for at least six months. This does not apply to a period of military deployment or duty.
After finding one of the three prerequisites, the court must still consider whether the change will be in the child’s best interest. The court will consider factors affecting the child’s physical, emotional, mental, education, social, moral or disciplinary welfare and development. The factors considered for this evaluation are:
1. Child’s emotional and physical needs.
2. Parenting ability of the conservators or potential conservators
3. Plans and outside resources available to persons seeking the modification
4. Value to the child of having a relationship with both parents
5. Visitation schedule that requires excessive traveling or prevents the child from engaging in school or social activities
6. Stability of the person’s home seeking the modification
7. The child’s desires
8. Child’s need for stability and need to limit additional litigation in child custody cases.
Modification within one year of prior court order
A parent who files a motion to modify a child custody order within one year after a prior order was entered must also submit an affidavit to the court. The affidavit must contain, along with supporting facts, at least one of the following allegations:
1. The child’s present environment may be endanger the child’s physical health or significantly impair the child’s emotional development.
2. The person who has the exclusive right to designate the child’s primacy residence is the person seeking or consenting to the modification and the modification is in the child’s best interest.
3. The person who has the exclusive right to designate the child’s primary residence has voluntarily relinquished the primacy care and possession of the child for at least six months and the modification is in the child’
Many professions create impositions on conservators making a standard possession order inapplicable and unworkable. The Court may deviate from a standard possession order if the order is inappropriate or unworkable in reference to the schedules of both the conservators and the child. Unique professions and irregular school schedules for children allow the Court to have flexibility to deviate from a standard possession order that is in the Best Interest of the Child. There are multiple ways in which the Court may depart from a standard possession order to fulfill the needs of all parties involved with the custody of the child.
First, the Family Code § 153.254 states that the Court will be allowed deference to modify the standard possession order if work schedules of either conservators or the school schedule of the child is irregular. The Court must attempt to narrowly tailor the modifications to keep the new possession order as similar to the standard possession order as possible. This instance most commonly occurs when the Managing Conservator and the Possessory Conservator cannot reach an agreement and one of the two Conservators has a unique profession such as a firefighter, police officer, or airline pilot. The working hours of these jobs allow the Court to modify the standard possession order even if both of the parties do not comply with the changes. The modifications must be made only if it is in the Best Interest of the Child.
Secondly, the standard possession order may always be modified if it is by the mutual agreement of both the Managing Conservator and Possessory Conservator. Family Code § 153.007 is the Agreed Parenting Plan Statute and allows for both parties to agree on a standard possession order for the child. This statute was passed to promote amicability in settlement for child custody issues and to give flexibility to the parents if they are willing to agree on custody terms. The Agreed Parenting Plan must be in the Best Interest of the Child for the Court to approve. If the Court grants the Agreed Parenting Plan then the Managing or Possessory Conservator will have a remedy as a matter of law for any violation of the agreement committed by either party.
Finally, both Conservators may enter into a Mediated Settlement Agreement under Family Code § 153.0071. A Mediated Settlement Agreement is the only time in which the Court will NOT look at the Best Interest of the Child when granting the custody agreement.
The Mediated Settlement Agreement § 153.0071 must be:
- In bold, underlined, and capital letters that the agreement is NOT REVOCABLE
- Signed by Both Parties to the agreement
- Signed by the lawyers (if represented) of each party
The Mediated Settlement Agreement is binding and not revocable so if the Conservators wish to go this route they must understand that what is in the agreement will be held as binding. This method can be used to modify or change a standard possession order and the Court will not look at the Best Interest of the Child regarding the agreement, unless there exists a credible threat of domestic violence.
These are the methods in which a unique possession order may be obtained to accommodate irregular schedules or working hours of both the conservators. Any possession order must be correctly drafted and all future contingencies must be accounted for. An experienced lawyer must be contacted to safeguard an individual’s custody rights of their children and to make sure that a fair custody arrangement is obtained.
This is a “Never Want to Live Through” Scenario: After a family breakup or divorce, your kids are picked up by your Ex and they all disappear! Where are they? Are they in danger? Will I ever see my children again?
After you get over your shock, the main question you will ask is: What can I do to get my children back?
- Thinking clearly, you must respond quickly. Time is of the essence.
- Contact the police immediately. You need to tell them that the runaway parent may have taken the children without permission. Make sure that you have your certified legal court orders that pertain to your parental arrangement agreement concerning your children. It is important to be able to show the police the specific orders and how important it is to find the runaway parent and kids!
- Make a list of possible locations the runaway parent may have taken the children. This helps the police in their search.
- Contact a family law attorney immediately. After the runaway has occurred, there will be court intervention to prevent any further occurrences. Custody and supervised visitation issues will also need to be addressed.
If you were never married or divorced from the runaway parent, or if you have no legal court orders concerning or establishing custody and visitation rights in place, this could be a serious impediment in securing help to find your children.
At any time this could happen to you! If your legal position concerning custody and visitation with your children is in limbo, go secure a family law attorney and the help you need to protect your kids.
If a custody agreement is in place with the courts, it is legally binding. If the runaway parent violates the agreement terms, this parent is in violation of the law and will likely face some serious legal problems.
Many times, the runaway parent may take the children out of your area and may even cross state lines. This violation in your custody/visitation agreement could be considered parental kidnapping if the runaway parent moved without telling you the new residence of the child or without getting legal permission through the court to move or modify the custody order.
When the runaway parent and children are found, this is what could happen:
- Custody Arrangements will legally be changed by court orders. You will most likely be awarded protective orders or custody with the runaway parent receiving supervised visitation or no contact with the child.
- The runaway parent may also face criminal charges and jail time.